We we show a nonjudgmental curiosity towards non-American ‘others’, it allows us to be open to the narratives that our foreign enemies believe, and whether we like it or not, there is often some truth in many anti-American beliefs that we need to see and understand so we can respond to it. The U.S. has not always played nice with other people. As hard as it is to admit, the U.S. has not always had a moral and just foreign policy (but to be fair, neither has any other nation). It may be wrong that others often hold the US to a higher standard, but this is also to be expected because we are the world’s only superpower.
When fighting the Cold War, the U.S. often supported right-wing totalitarian dictators while opposing left-wing dictators who cozied up to the Communist Bloc. The U.S. intervened in the domestic affairs of Iran by propping up the Shaw. The U.S. has also supported pro-U.S. Arab dictators who tortured their own citizens and who quashed dissent. We even engaged in acts of war such as mining foreign harbors and bombing foreign countries. We did this in the name of opposing worldwide communism, to support the goal of political stability in the Middle East (in part because we needed cheap oil from them), and in the name of fighting the war on drugs. During the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. even engaged in regular acts of torture, for which no American has ever been held accountable. We Americans have to face up to the reality that we have not always lived up to our ideals either at home or abroad. This can be unpleasant, but we cannot become a better country if we fail to accept the reality of our imperfect past. Only by acknowledging the wrongs of the past are we able to work towards preventing such acts in the future. Just as importantly, only by acknowledging our past wrongs can we begin to see why others do not like us and may wish us harm. This is not to imply that the U.S. invited or caused acts of violence against U.S. citizens, but that understanding the basis of some grievances against us will at least help us to better understand those who wish us harm. Nothing justifies acts of violence against civilians, and the persons who are to blame for acts of terror are the terrorists who perpetrate them and their twisted ideology that says it is ok to harm civilians for religious or political reasons.
Nevertheless, our enemies in the world are right to hold a mirror up to the U.S. by pointing out our hypocrisy when we condemn the human rights record of dictators we don’t like even though we remain silent on the human rights record of other dictators because they rule a country with oil reserves or other strategic interest. Our enemies in the world are also right when they point out our hypocrisy when we fail to live up to our own ideals of freedom and liberty here at home. In this sense we should be grateful to those who criticize our country as they help us reflect on how we are living up (or not) to our ideals. No nation or people are 100% all good or all bad. By practicing a nonjudgmental curiosity of other cultures, religions, and nations, we can learn a great deal about what has transpired in our enemies that has helped them develop their fears, their hopes, and their beliefs that lead to their viewing the U.S. with hostility. By understanding their point of view, their narrative of why the world is the way it is – only then can we come to see the world through the eyes of those we view as enemies. Only by doing so will we be able to see our enemies as real people who oftentimes are well meaning. After all, even a suicide bomber believes he is doing good. Only by understanding the history and culture – good and bad- that creates suicide bombers can we work to make those who grow up in the culture that creates bombers our friends, thereby stopping the terrorist pipeline. Only by understanding why Iranians, Argentinians, or Nigerians may mistrust us will we be able to begin the process of seeing them not as people to be mistrusted or even potential enemies, but as human beings. Once that happens we can then start to eliminate the barriers of mistrust and fear between our peoples.
Listening to others who are different, in a non-defensive way and seeking to understand them, are great acts of kindness. It is best not to argue with those who are hostile to the U.S. or to defend our own beliefs in this situation but to seek to understand why others see their beliefs as valid. We must do this in a way that projects our curiosity, not disagreement. By seeking to understand those we view as enemies we learn more about why they dislike us but also more about how we as a society can respond to them in ways that are more likely to help us get what we want. This is also more likely to result in a ‘win-win’ situation for both Americans and for those whom we disagree with. It is only a start, but we need to stop shouting at our enemies and to start listening to them. We can (and should) admit those times when we have been hypocritical ourselves and seek to do better in the future; and we must learn to listen to those who see our country as an enemy. How else are we going to learn why they dislike us so? How else are we going to learn to see our foreign enemies as human beings who share the same hopes and fears that we ourselves share? Our enemies on the world stage are also mothers and fathers who also want to see their children grow up to be healthy and prosperous. Just like you and I, others throughout the world want their children to live in peace also. We have to start seeing those we view as a threat or as an enemy as mothers, fathers, and as normal human beings with hopes and fears just like we have. This is the first step in being able to practice grace and love towards them. Parents in Gaza cry over a murdered child just like parents in South Carolina do. We must learn to see those we fear or dislike as the ordinary people and parents that they are. When we learn their history and why they think the way they do – the ‘narratives’ they tell themselves about the world and about their place in it – then we start to see them as ordinary humans. This is the first step toward peace. This is the first step towards learning to love our enemies.
This is the message Jesus, Gandhi and King all preached. When we overwhelm our opponents with grace, love, and kindness; they cease to become our opponents. In this way love and kindness will destroy our enemies more effectively and permanently than bullets ever could. Abraham Lincoln put it this way, ‘Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”